Hartford Hospital and the University of Connecticut Health Center make an inspiring case for a new 250-bed replacement for John Dempsey Hospital in Farmington. The question is how to pay for it.
A new hospital built by the state but run by the private Hartford Hospital could play a vital role in the region's economic development, as the partners say. A state investment of $475 million would allow the academic medical center to go from the second smallest in the nation to among the top 10.
The new center could grow jobs, help produce badly needed doctors, triple the university hospital's research portfolio, help retain and recruit star faculty, and lead to new patents and spinoff companies. Without the state's commitment, though, the university may have to close such medical programs as psychiatry.
A half-billion-dollar commitment is a lot to ask of a legislature that will have to close a multibillion-dollar budget deficit in the next two years. Yet the vision of a new medical center and the benefits it could bring is very appealing at such a bleak time.Hartford Hospital and UConn insist a new Dempsey Hospital is the only solution to chronic deficits incurred by the current outmoded one. This is, they say, "a generational opportunity."
The Hospital of Central Connecticut and the Connecticut Children's Medical Center are also emphatic that the new hospital would be a home run for the region. Failure to act now, they insist, would be far more costly in the long run.
The Dempsey Hospital deficit is projected to bloom to $30 million annually in a couple of years. That is more than the projected annual cost to the state of a new facility.
If it is built, Hartford Hospital would be responsible for its operating budget. The state would be responsible for paying the fringe benefits of state employees there, $13 million annually, plus $14 million yearly for debt service on the new hospital.
A spanking new hospital is a tough sell in this anemic economy. Legislators aren't likely to want to add to a bonded indebtedness that is among the highest in the nation per capita. And questions concerning governance of the new medical center are still unanswered.
Nevertheless, UConn President Michael Hogan and the hospital executives have put forward a inspiring plan. We applaud the collaborative proposal that would keep a first-rate medical and dental school healthy and improve the quality of health care in Connecticut.
But the money has to come from somewhere. If legislators agree that the new hospital is a top priority, they will have to conjure up ways to pay for it, such as higher taxes on the products that can put people in hospitals (think cigarettes and liquor).
UConn is in the second phase of a $2.3 billion campus upgrade that has made it a magnet for students and faculty. That 21st Century building program is one logical place to turn for funds to help build a hospital. Yes, that would mean sacrificing other projects, or postponing them until the financial climate improves. But it may persuade the state to also contribute specifically to this worthy cause.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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